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Buono/Weinberg Bill To Increase Penalties For Bullying And Hate Crimes Receives Final Legislative Approval

Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, speaks at a news conference, while Senators Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, Mercer (left) and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen (right) look on. The three legislators are proposing measures to ensure that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield isn

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Loretta Weinberg which would strengthen State laws on hate crimes and bullying received unanimous final legislative approval today from the full Assembly.

“Too often, those choosing to commit hate crimes target victims based on who they are perceived to be, and not on facts and one-on-one relationships,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Hate crimes epitomize ignorance, and those who choose to commit them should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“From the very beginning of our nation’s history, different groups have endured discrimination based on simple, uninformed assumptions of character,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “This legislation would help to educated and inform the public of the dangers of hate crime, bullying and the ignorance that fuels all related discriminatory and violent actions.”

The Senators’ bill, S-2975, would strengthen current laws on bullying and hate crimes to include penalties for crimes against people based on gender and identity expression, national origin and disability. Currently, these groups are not protected under the State’s “Bias Intimidation Act.’ This legislation would call for those found guilty of harassing a member of any group to be prosecuted for both assault and bias intimidation. Under the bill, bias intimidation would be added to the list of crimes for which the Victims of Crime Compensation Agency would be permitted to order payment for personal injury or death.

The bill would also establish a Commission on Bullying in Schools which would be responsible for studying and making recommendations of the effectiveness, adequacy and funding of school bullying policies and regulations. The membership of the 14-person Commission would include the Commissioner of Education; the Director of the Division of Civil Rights; a representative of the New Jersey Education Association; and a representative of the Anti-Defamation League.

Schools would be required to post their anti-bullying policies on their websites and to distribute them to parents and guardians.

The bill would also call upon local and county law enforcement to keep statistics on bias crimes. The Attorney General would maintain a central list of the statistics throughout the State. The bill would also call for all new police officers to complete a training course on bias intimidation.

“When the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed this bill, we heard testimony that New Jersey ranks second in the Nation in the number of reported hate crimes. As a mother of four, I refuse to allow this sort of discrimination to go unaddressed,” said Senator Buono.

“Enacting this legislation will show that we in New Jersey refuse to tolerate discrimination and intolerance on any level,” said Senator Weinberg.

This measure now heads to Governor Corzine’s desk, where his signature would make it State law.